The Taliban has proposed a three-month cease-fire in exchange for the release of 7,000 of its fighters, an Afghan government negotiator said, as the militant group captured a key border crossing with Pakistan in a sweeping offensive ahead of the August 31 deadline for the pullout of U.S. forces from the war-torn country.
"It is a big demand," Ahmad Nader Naderi, a key member of the government team involved in peace talks with the Taliban, told a news conference in Kabul on July 15.
Naderi said the militants also demanded the removal of their leaders' names from a United Nations blacklist.
There was no immediate official reaction from the Afghan government to the proposal.
The Afghan government last year released more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners to help kick-start peace talks in Doha, but negotiations have so far failed to reach any political settlement.
Naderi also accused the Taliban of destroying half a billion dollars' worth of administrative buildings in 116 districts of 29 provinces.
"[They have destroyed] 260 buildings that are the property of the people of this country. They have been destroyed, blown up, or burnt down. If you look at how much money is spent, it is worth at least $500 million," Naderi said.
The Taliban immediately denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry confirmed Taliban fighters had captured a key border crossing with Pakistan. There had been conflicting reports about the status of the border from Chaman to Spin Boldak in Afghanistan, with the Afghan government claiming it had retaken it from the Taliban and the insurgents insisting they remained in control.
"They have taken control of Spin Boldak border crossing," Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri confirmed on July 15, a day after the Taliban said it had seized the town.
Meanwhile, Pakistani security forces used tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who tried to force their way across the border from Chaman to Spin Boldak. An Afghan Taliban source told AFP that hundreds of people had also gathered on the Afghan side, hoping to travel in the other direction.
The border was closed July 14 by Pakistan officials after the Taliban seized Spin Boldak crossing and raised its flag above the town.
As fighting rages across much of Afghanistan, the UN's refugee agency has warned the spiraling conflict could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.
"Afghanistan's on the brink of another humanitarian crisis," Babar Baloch, a spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on July 13.
A failure to stem the "violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighboring countries and beyond,” he said.
This story is based on reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.